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Hatton Tries To Get Back To Where He Once Belonged

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PacquiaoHatton Hogan 43The ever-so-appropriate words were written and sung by another famous British subject, Sir Paul McCartney, in the days when the Beatles were cranking out even more smash hits than those authored in the ring by the latter-day boxer who came to be known as “The Hitman” to similarly adoring throngs.

Get back, get back

Get back to where you once belonged

For former two-division world champion Ricky Hatton, whose shrieking fan base reminded some of the pandemonium that was Beatlemania, the place where he once belonged must now seem long ago and far away. He was the pride of Manchester, England, non-soccer division, and as much of a hero there and throughout the United Kingdom as was McCartney and his three band mates. Was it only five years ago that Hatton’s popularity was such that he could seduce 25,000 of his countrymen to travel to Las Vegas for one of his fights, even if many of them couldn’t procure tickets inside the arena? Or just three years since his fun-loving, scampish halo was knocked askew in the wake of a crushing one-punch wipeout and revelations of lackadaisical training, binge drinking and forays into recreational drugs?

And was it less than a year ago that Hatton, his hero status and personal life increasingly in tatters, plunged into depression so deep he considered slitting his wrists and ending it all?

But Hatton, now 34, inactive for 42 months and edging ever closer to the comeback bout that many fallen pugilistic icons have risked in the hope of restoring whatever it is that they feel they’ve lost, insists that he can no longer leave things as they are. True champions – and a prime Ricky Hatton was certainly that – don’t quit on themselves, or on those they have disappointed and disillusioned. For those fighters seeking absolution inside the ropes, the immediate future might not turn out as glorious as was the receding past, but then opening one’s veins or totally succumbing to self-pity isn’t the answer, either.

Get back, get back

Get back to where you once belonged

On Nov. 24, in MEN Arena in his hometown of Manchester, site of many of his more memorable successes, Hatton (45-2, 32 KOs) tries to turn back the clock to a much happier time when he takes on former WBA welterweight champion Vyacheslav Senchenko (32-1, 21 KOs), of Ukraine, in what no one can describe as a tuneup. Senchenko might not be on a level with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, ultra-elite opponents who greased the skids for Hatton’s precipitous fall from grace, but he is no stiff to be casually cuffed around for the purpose of making the “Hitman’s” return engagement just another feel-good exercise.

No, Hatton’s purpose in this case seems to be an attempt to quickly find out whether he has the goods to come all the way back, or to again scurry into the hole he had dug for himself these past few years. It is an ambitious quest, even noble if his intentions are as pure as he insists. But the consequences of failure must be daunting to someone whose belief that he can complete the journey has to be at least somewhat fragile at this point. The more Hatton stands to gain, the more he stands to lose.

Some wagers, though, have to be placed because there really isn’t an acceptable alternative. In the game of redemption, you’re all-in or you don’t play.

“Win or lose, I’ve already won,” Hatton says of where he is now in relation to where he was not so very long ago. “I want to finish my career the way it should have ended – not flat on my back on the canvas.

“I feel like I let everybody down. The nation. All my fans. It was a really horrible, dark place I was in. I just needed to prove that I could get fit again. I want people to look at me as a four-time world champion, in two weight categories, and as a down-to-earth man of the people, not as the joke that I had become.”

Funny thing about punches, and punch lines. It’s always better to be the person delivering them than to be the butt of snide remarks from those whose lips previously uttered nothing but praise. A fighter can go from certain victory to emphatic defeat in the time required for the other guy to deliver a devastating shot to the jaw, which is about as swiftly as it takes for someone who always has been the life of the party to become just another unwanted guest with questionable table manners.

All those Hatton devotees from the UK thought it endearingly hilarious when their man cracked wise after his fourth-round stoppage of the formidable Jose Luis Castillo in Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center on June 23, 2007. Asked by a reporter what he planned to do next, Hatton, who never made a secret of his fondness for lifting a pint or two, smiled and said, “I’ll have a few battles tonight with Mr. Guinness.”

Hatton, a nonstop punching machine whose swarming, take-two-to-land-one style is reminiscent of the late Arturo Gatti, made the breakthrough from British phenomenon to global superstar when, as a sizable underdog, he forced the feared Russian, Kostya Tszyu, to quit on his stool after 11 rounds in MEN Arena before the typical sellout crowd of 22,000 on June 4, 2005, capturing the IBF junior welterweight championship in the process. That victory alone would have been enough for Hatton to become the first Briton to be voted Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, although he embellished his credentials for the BWAA award with a subsequent thrashing of Carlos Maussa 5½ months later in Yorkshire, England.

Thus began the extended U.S. phase of Hatton’s dizzying career ascent, with big crowds – enlarged by hordes of British revelers – coming out to see him beat Luis Collazzo in Boston and Juan Urango and Castillo on the Vegas Strip.

“We pride ourselves on being great sportsmen,” said Dennis Holson, the British partner of Art Pelullo, the Philadelphia-based promoter of Hatton’s bouts with Collazzo, Urango and Castillo. “But out-and-out winners? We don’t have that many. Our country is an absolute winner here. We should savor these moments because we’re not just making memories, we’re making history.”

But the good times took a downward turn in Hatton’s next trip to Vegas, where he was paired with the man widely considered to be the finest pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, Floyd Mayweather Jr. An estimated 25,000 Hatton supporters from the UK flooded the city to support their favorite fighter, and so what if only 3,900 tickets were made available to them initially? Some of Hatton’s people were willing to pay up to $10,000 for a ticket, and did, and those who never made it inside the MGM Grand Garden happily filled closed-circuit venues throughout town, screaming themselves hoarse singing “Rule, Brittania,” “God Save the Queen” and, most frequently, “Walking in a Hatton Wonderland” to the tune of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”

Unimpressed by all those Hatton crazies, a bemused Mayweather said, “The only reason Hatton is 43-0 is because he hasn’t fought anyone. He hasn’t fought 43 Floyd Mayweathers. If he had, he’d be 0-43.”

Mayweather’s take on what was to unfold proved spot-on; he dominated the action from the opening bell, wresting the WBA welterweight belt from Hatton on a 10th-round TKO, flooring the outclassed champion twice in that round with ripping left hooks.

Still the impish prankster, Hatton sized up his first professional defeat thusly: “What can I say? I was doing all right until I bleepin’ slipped.”

Hatton’s slippage was to continue, in other ways. After victories over Juan Lazcano and Paulie Malignaggi, an underprepared Hatton, by then losing too many of his behind-the-scenes battles with Mr. Guinness, was felled by a single blow in the second round from Manny Pacquiao on May 2, 2009, at the MGM Grand. He has not fought since, and his absence from the ring took on the cloak of notoriety when he was photographed snorting cocaine in a hotel.

Now a trimmer, cleaned-up Hatton tries to make amends for the detours he so readily if unwisely took. In his 14th appearance in MEN Arena, can he still fill every one of those 22,000 seats? Will the fighter on display be the same force of nature that battered Kostya Tszyu into submission? Or the one who was exposed as an overhyped fraud by Mayweather and Pacquiao?

Get back, get back

Get back to where you once belonged

Hatton says he wants to do show a more positive side of himself to his children, son Campbell and daughter Millie, who have too often seen the bloated, despondent drunk that their father had become. Maybe he never could have beaten Mayweather and Pacquiao, even at his best, but he did himself no favors by spending more time in the pub than in the gym. That was a surefire way to dissipate any hint of greatness that he once displayed, an aura he so desperately seeks to regain.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 274: Yeritsyan vs Randall at Chumash Casino, Japan and More

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Violence of an organized nature begins in the rustic and peaceful surroundings of Santa Inez, California as welterweights Gor Yeritsyan and Quinton Randall headline a 360 Boxing Promotions card at Chumash Casino on Friday.

Hours later, three world championship fights erupt in Japan. And hours after that, super middleweights tangle in Florida.

All will be streamed.

Undefeated Yeritsyan (17-0, 14 KOs) meets Randall (13-1-1, 3 KOs) for the WBC Continental Americas title on Friday, Feb. 23, at Chumash Casino. UFC Fight Pass will stream the 360 Boxing Promotions card.

Others on the card include undefeated super lightweight Cain Sandoval (11-0, 11 KOs) meeting Javier Molina (22-5, 9 KOs) in a battle set for 10 rounds. It’s a stronger test for Sandoval who has blasted out every opponent. Molina is one of the fighting twin brothers who both were Olympians.

Javier was an Olympian in 2008 for the USA and Oscar Molina an Olympian for Mexico in 2012.

“I’ve been hearing about Cain for a while, but I know my skills and experience will give me the victory,” said Molina who fights out of Los Angeles.

Sandoval, 21, last November won by knockout in Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“Javier is a very good veteran who has had many more fights than me, but he’s never felt my power before,” said Sandoval who fights out of Sacramento.

Chumash Casino is located near one of the old California missions and built by the Spaniards in 1804. You can see open land for miles with the next nearest town of Solvang a short driving distance away.

Over the decades I’ve seen some memorable fights including Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley’s wild victory over Manuel Garnica in 2007 and Seniesa “Super Bad’ Estrada’s pro debut win in 2011 against Maria Ruiz.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Tokyo Hosts Three World Title Fights

It’s a triple-header in Tokyo for real fight lovers.

Early Saturday morning at 1 a.m. (Pacific Time) three world title matches headed by WBC bantamweight titlist Alexandro Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs) of Mexico defending against Japan’s Junto Nakatani (26-0, 19 KOs) take place.

Santiago defeated legendary champion Nonito Donaire last July in Las Vegas in an upset. He also fought to a draw against Filipino slugger Jerwin Ancajas who is also on this card.

Nakatani is a big hitter and two-division world champion. He is very familiar with Mexican fighters and often trains in Southern California. I saw him in Maywood, California a year ago. He’s quite a fighter.

In the other co-main event WBA bantamweight titlist Takuma Inoue (18-1, 4 KOs) defends against former super flyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas (34-3-2, 23 KOs) of the Philippines. Its speed against power.

A third co-main features WBO super flyweight titlist Kosei Tanaka (19-1, 11 KOs) defending against Mexico’s Christian Bacasegua (22-4-2, 9 KOs).

ESPN+ will stream the card live on Saturday.

Matchroom in Orlando

It’s a showcase for contenders.

Brooklyn native Edgar Berlanga (21-0, 16 KOs) “the Chosen One” meets United Kingdom’s Padraig “the Hammer” McCrory (18-0, 9 KOs) in the super middleweight main event on Saturday, Feb. 24. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card from Orlando, Florida.

Berlanga, of Puerto Rican descent, burst on the pro boxing scene by knocking out 16 consecutive foes. But ever since 2021 he has been unable to win by knockout. Five consecutive opponents went the distance.

Can Berlanga still punch?

Facing the Boricua slugger will be McCrory a 35-year-old from Northern Ireland who remains undefeated. To put it into perspective, the United Kingdom is filled with very good super middleweights and none have beaten McCrory so far.

Also on the card is Cuban Olympic gold medalist Andy Cruz (2-0) defending a regional lightweight title against Mexican southpaw Brayan Zamarripa (14-2, 9 KOs). Cruz has blistering speed and an aggressive style as a pro.

Other interesting fights feature bantamweight prospects Antonio Vargas (17-1) and Jonathan Rodriguez (17-1-1). Both can punch but each lost via knockout. Whose chin will prove sturdier in this clash?

Fights to Watch (all times Pacific Time)

Fri. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Gor Yeritsyan (17-0) vs Quinton Randall (13-1-1)

Sat. ESPN+ 1 a.m. Alexandro Santiago (28-3-5) vs Junto Nakatani (26-0).

Sat. DAZN 4 p.m. Edgar Berlanga (21-0) vs Padraig McCrory (18-0).

Photo: Tom Loeffler is flanked by Javier Molina and Cain Sandoval. Photo credit: Lina Baker

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Fighters from Tijuana are on a Roll; Can Alexandro Santiago Keep Up the Momentum?

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Fighters from Tijuana are on a Roll; Can Alexandro Santiago Keep Up the Momentum?

Last Thursday, a Golden Boy Promotions card in California produced an early entrant for Upset of the Year. In the main event, unsung Jesus “Ricky” Perez out-pointed former U.S. Olympian and former two-division title-holder Joseph “Jojo” Diaz.

Perez hails from Tijuana. Heading in, he had lost five of his last nine and had never won a match slated for more than eight rounds. He started fast and held on to win a split nod (ancient ringside judge Lou Moret awarded Perez nine of the 10 rounds).

The fast-growing, hardscrabble city of Tijuana, which sits at the northwest tip of the Baja peninsula, has produced a steady stream of good boxers over the years (Erik Morales, a Hall of Famer, and Antonio Margarito, a two-time world welterweight champion, come quickly to mind), but is currently enjoying arguably the best run in the city’s boxing history. And the distaff side is sharing in the prosperity. Flyweight Kenia Enriquez (28-1, 11 KOs) and her younger sister Tania Rodriguez (21-1, 10 KOs), a light flyweight, are knocking on the door of world title fights (Kenia holds an interim belt).

Last December, when pundits at the leading U.S. boxing websites brainstormed to come up with the 2023 Fight of the Year, two bouts stood out above all others: the Feb. 18 match between super bantamweights Luis Nery and Azat Hovhannisyan and the June 10 super middleweight contest between Jaime Munguia and Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

The Nery-Hovhannisyan match was a riveting, see-saw rumble that ended with Nery winning by TKO in the 11th round. Munguia scored a knockdown in the 12th to overcome Derevyanchenko, eking out a razor-thin but unanimous decision. Both victors have since added another “W” to their respective ledgers. Nery (35-1, 27 KOs) KOed Filipino veteran Froilan Saludar. Munguia (43-0, 34 KOs) dominated and stopped England’s John Ryder.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Luis Nery and Jaime Munguia were both born and raised in Tijuana. And we will be hearing a lot more about them. Although unofficial, Nery has an agreement in place to fight superstar Naoya Inoue in Tokyo in May and, according to various reports, Munguia is now the frontrunner to be Canelo Alvarez’s next opponent.

The month after Munguia-Derevyanchenko, Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (pictured) scored his signature win and won the vacant WBC world bantamweight title with an upset of the great Filipino fighter Nonito Donaire. Santiago won a clear-cut decision on the card topped by the mega-fight between Terence Crawford and Errol Spence.

Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs) has a formidable challenge for his first title defense which comes on Saturday in Tokyo. In the opposite corner will be undefeated Junto Nakatani (26-0, 19 KOs) who is moving up in weight after winning world titles at 112 and 115. Nakatani can really crack as he showed with his brutal, one-punch knockout of Andrew Moloney.

There are two other title fights on the card which will air in the U.S. on ESPN+. Needless to say, one will have to get out of bed early to catch all the action. The first bell is slated for 4 am ET, 1 pm PT.

Santiago will be a heavy underdog against his Japanese opponent who will have a 5-inch height advantage. However, if recent history is any guide, one should not be too quick to dismiss his chances.

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Who Murdered Peter Bufala? A ‘Whodunit’ with a Boxing Backdrop

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On Friday, Oct. 8, 1976, Peter Bufala returned home from work just as a new day was dawning. The Las Vegas baccarat dealer pulled his Cadillac into his circular driveway, exited his car, walked toward his front door, and was felled by two bullets from a 9 mm handgun, one entering his chest and the other his brain. A neighbor fetching his morning newspaper found him lying in a pool of blood on his front lawn. He was dead when the police arrived. He was 33 years old and left behind a wife and two young daughters.

A 12-year resident of the fast-growing southern Nevada gambling mecca, Bufala grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, a blue collar suburb of Philadelphia. He had come here to rekindle his boxing career.

A Middle Atlantic amateur featherweight champion, he had begun his pro career on a high note, winning a 4-round decision over a fellow novice on a show at New York’s St. Nicholas Arena that included Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who would go on to fight for the world middleweight title but would be best remembered for the many years he spent behind prison walls for his alleged involvement in a triple homicide.

Following his New York engagement, Bufala fought in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia. As a pro, he never fought in his home state and there was a reason for it. In 1961, while undergoing a routine medical examination at an amateur show, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. The Pennsylvania Boxing Commission rescinded his license. He subsequently underwent a series of tests at Temple University Medical Hospital and was given a clean bill of health, but the Pennsylvania authorities were unyielding and, bit by bit, in a day when news traveled slowly, other jurisdictions fell into line.

Nevada was the Wild West. The regulators there had looser standards and Bufala resumed his career on Sept. 2, 1964 at the Castaways, out-pointing his opponent in a 5-round match to improve his ledger to 7-3. The publicity man misspelled his name, adding an extra “f”, and he would remain Pete Buffala whenever his name appeared in the sports section of the local papers.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, approximately 165,000 people resided in all of sprawling Clark County, home to Las Vegas. The thought that Vegas would someday host a Formula 1 Grand Prix or a Super Bowl, two of the grandest sports spectacles in the world, was preposterous. The only local sport that ever made the national news wire was boxing.

The fulcrum was Bill Miller, a hot-headed boxing junkie from Elmira, New York, who owned a saloon on the Las Vegas Strip that he out-fitted with a boxing gym in the basement. Miller’s “Strip Fight of the Week,” which bounced from one little casino to another during a run that lasted well over a decade, bucked the national trend. Small fight clubs, with very few exceptions, had fallen by the wayside, a development triggered by the mass production of televisions.

Miller was hardly immune to all the little hassles that plague a grass-roots boxing promoter. Matches were constantly falling out. But he had several things working in his favor. As opportunities dried up elsewhere, journeymen boxers were drawn here by the promise of steady work. And although Miller couldn’t afford to pay enough to make boxing a full-time profession, good-paying jobs were plentiful in the construction and hospitality industries.

To be certain, there were also push factors. Chester, Pennsylvania, a shipbuilding hub during World War II, had fallen on hard times, plagued by unemployment and racial strife. Lowell, Massachusetts, a city known for its vibrant amateur boxing culture, was likewise hurting with row after row of textile factories sitting vacant. Lowell produced Eddie Andrews, a hard-hitting middleweight who would be the first fighter to make promoter Miller any significant money without having to take him on the road to a larger precinct or overseas.

Andrews supplemented his ring earnings dealing blackjack at Caesars Palace. For a time, Ralph Dupas was a co-worker. A former world title-holder at 154 pounds, Dupas settled in Las Vegas in the mid-1960s as his career was winding down and remained here until his encroaching dementia passed the tipping point and family members brought him home to his native New Orleans to live out his final days.

Returning to Peter Bufala, he worked his way up the ladder on Miller’s promotions, eventually topping the marquee for a fight with Johnny Brooks. They fought at the Hacienda, a grind joint at the south end of the Strip (where Mandalay Bay now sits) on April 13, 1965. Brooks was nothing special, but he was better than his 17-6-3 record. He would go on to last the distance in 10-round fights with future Hall of Famers Emile Griffith and Carlos Monzon.

Bufala was bloodied in the third round and knocked down in the fourth, but mounted a furious rally and at the end of the 10 rounds the judges could not pick a winner and the match went into the books as a draw. Working on the “5-point-must” system, the scores were 46-44 Bufala, 46-45 Brooks, and 46-46. (Trivia time: The 46-46 tally was turned in by ringside judge Harry Reid who would go on to become the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate. Nowadays, visitors flying in to Las Vegas arrive at Harry Reid International Airport.)

Had Bufala won the bout, his next fight would have been a 12-rounder against Reno’s Dave Patterson, the Nevada Lightweight Champion. But when he returned to the ring the following month, it was in a 6-rounder against an unsung fighter from Los Angeles named Davey White and, in a shocker, White blasted him out in the second round.

Bufala announced his retirement after this fight. It warranted scarcely a mention in the Las Vegas papers, but the folks back in Chester hadn’t forgotten him. “Pete Bufala Quits Boxing for Health,” read the bold headline on the sports page of the June 9, 1965 issue of the Delaware County Daily Times. The accompanying story said that Buffala, “Chester’s most promising professional fighter,” had emerged from his most recent bout with a blot clot in his neck and was troubled by chronic back problems. (Buffala would have one more fight before quitting the sport for good. He won his final fight, a 6-rounder, bringing his final record, per boxrec, to 16-5-2.)

Bufala never returned to Chester. He married a local girl and, in short order, was a father of three, two girls and a boy who tragically died at 16 months when he crawled into a plastic laundry bag and suffocated as his mother was distracted writing checks.

In December of 1973, the MGM Grand opened on the southeast corner of the busiest intersection on the Las Vegas Strip. This was the city’s original MGM Grand that would take the name Bally’s and was recently re-branded the Horseshoe. With 2,100 rooms, a 1,200-seat showroom and a jai alai fronton, the MGM Grand made its competitors look puny by comparison. Peter Bufala was there on opening night, dealing baccarat.

In terms of the money put at risk, baccarat is the crème-de-crème of card games. It attracts the whales, the high-rollers that leave the biggest tips. On a good night at a high-end establishment like the MGM Grand, it wasn’t uncommon for a dealer to rake in $500 in gratuities. Bufala worked the graveyard shift (likely 9 pm to 5 am; it varied by hotel), the most coveted shift for a dealer in a day when visitors to Las Vegas were more nocturnal than they are today.

One didn’t get to be a baccarat dealer in a ritzy joint by working his way up from the bottom. One had to know the right people. In the vernacular, one got juiced into the job. And the juicer might expect a kick-back.

One of the most influential people in Las Vegas was an outsider who tried to keep a low profile, Gaspare “Jasper” Speciale. A transplanted New York bookmaker, Speciale co-owned and managed the Tower of Pizza restaurant which sat a stone’s throw from the MGM Grand on the opposite side of the street. Speciale opened doors for dozens of people seeking employment in the hospitality industry. If one was new in town and needed work in a hurry, Jasper was the man to see.

Until the arrival in Las Vegas of the notorious Tony Spilotro, Speciale was the city’s premier private money lender. He would eventually serve four years in a federal prison for loan-sharking.

Whenever there was a murder in Las Vegas that had the earmarks of a mob hit, speculation always centered on Gaspare Speciale. It mattered not that he was active in his church and donated lavishly to local charities. Moreover, he had a warm spot in his heart for prizefighters. In the spacious backyard of his home, chockablock with mementos of his boyhood in New York City, there was a replica of Stillman’s Gym complete with a punching bag and rubbing tables.

Another theory, although one that acquired less currency, pointed the finger at Bufala’s father-in-law who was the beneficiary of Peter’s life insurance policy. The two were partners in a small sporting goods store where it was rumored that one could purchase an unregistered firearm.

On the day that Peter Bufala was assassinated, the story about it in the Las Vegas Sun, an afternoon paper, said that the former boxer had no bad habits – he didn’t drink, smoke, gamble or chase women — and that he was well-liked by everyone that knew him. But, said a police detective, “Someone wanted him dead and eventually we’re going to find out who that someone is and why.”

Forty-seven years after the fact, the who and the why remain as baffling as ever. If Peter Bufala were alive today, he would be 80 years old. This is a mystery that will likely never be solved.

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